India’s Dalai Dilemma

As the world reacts to China’s crackdown in Tibet, one country is conspicuous by both its centrality to the drama and its reticence over it. India, the land of asylum for the Dalai Lama and the angry young hotheads of the Tibetan Youth Congress, finds itself on the horns of a dilemma.

On one hand, India is a democracy with a long tradition of allowing peaceful protest, including against foreign countries when their leaders come visiting. It provided refuge to the Dalai Lama when he fled Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959, granted asylum (and eventually Indian citizenship) to more than 110,000 Tibetan refugees, and permitted them to create a government-in-exile (albeit one that India does not recognize) in the picturesque Himalayan hill town of Dharamsala.

On the other hand, India has been cultivating better relations with China, which humiliated India in a brief border war in 1962. Though their bitter border dispute remains unresolved, and China has been a vital ally and military supplier to India’s enemies in Pakistan, bilateral relations have grown warmer in recent years.

Trade has doubled in each of the last three years, to an estimated $40 billion this year; China has now overtaken the US as India’s largest single trading partner. Tourism, particularly by Indian pilgrims to a major Hindu holy site in Tibet, is thriving. Indian information technology firms have opened offices in Shanghai, and Infosys’s headquarters in Bangalore recruited nine Chinese this year. India has no desire to jeopardize any of this.